Photokina 2014

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It is big, bold and busy. With 1070 exhibitors representing 51 countries visited by 180 000 photo pros and enthusiasts from over 150 nations it is the Olympics of the photography world.

Spread over 11 large halls there is something for everyone wholesalers, professionals and consumers alike. The industry heavyweights use the fair to launch the newest. So around their counters there is not much elbow room and the mostly male audience take turns to  photograph models, racing cars and mini landscapes set up to aim cameras and lenses at.

This year I wanted to seek out great travel photography gear. Sensor size, camera weight, picture quality, support, portability, motion and display was on my agenda.

When it comes to sensor size the 36.3 MP DSLR sensor launched in the Nikon D800/800E have been upgraded for the new D810. The Sony sensor is shared with the A7r but the image processors are different. As I have been a Nikon user since 1991 I am familiar with the system and was curious as to the improvements. Sports and travel photographer Lucas Gilman noted a more precise autofocus, better dynamic range and the new continuous quiet mode, which I much appreciate. The addition of a group AF incorporating 5 focus points and a higher continuous frame rate now make it a great action camera as well, he said. In short it is just a better camera than its predecessor. To prove his point he showed some incredible white water kayak and surf photography as well as time lapse sequences and video shot with the D810. It is about 1000 (Euros/USD) more expensive than the smaller sibling the D750 that some contend is the perfect travel DSLR camera. It was also available to try out but my elbows were just not sharp enough to get to the counter.

As an alternative to a large heavy DSLR system that with a few extra lenses easily can become a 10 kg backpack a small, quiet and fast camera would be great. Two such cameras were premiered at Photokina. Actually it is one camera under two brands. First up is Leica that with its pedigree in photojournalism has credibility for quality. The new pro point-and-shoot Leica D-Lux (Typ 109) has a four-thirds sensor with a 24-75 mm equivalent f1.7-2.8 zoom lens so it mimics the commonly used pro DSLR lens setup.

The ingenious 2.8 k dot eye activated Electronic View Finder zooms in on details during focusing a really great feature. It can also go completely manual focus with a switch on the lens barrel for unobtrusive street shooting. Clean lines, super quiet (mirror less and Leica pedigree) with clean retro inspired lines and top manual controls makes it a good contender as a pros backup or daily use camera. That it also shoots 4k video is another bonus. With the Leica red dot branding the MSRP is 1195 (Euros/USD) which includes a copy of Adobe Lightroom. For those less brand conscious Lightroom users there is the identical Panasonic LX 100 with a MSRP of 899. Both cameras will be available in November.

At Fuji I was able to borrow an X1 Pro with a 10-24 mm lens to test it out during the afternoon. A novel concept that I hope other manufacorers would take on board. What better way to try before you buy and create brand ambassadors and loyalty. Great initiative and some of the results are accompanying this article. Thank you Fuji!

Samsung have tried to merge cameras with Smart phones for a while with mixed results. A mobile (cell) phone will never replace a “real” camera in my book but it can be a great way to make visual “notes”. As I am in the market for an upgrade after two years the new Note 4 might just be it. With a 16 MP camera (not that I often use a cell phone camera but it is good as a “notebook”) and a 2560 x1440 pixel Super AMOLED screen the specs are impressive. I have been using the Note 2 as an on the go portfolio and the Note 4 would make it look spectacular.

Possibly the greatest stir at the fair was caused by the Lytro Illum light field camera. It has already raked in several awards. It catches light in thre dimensions which allows the photographer to focus in post-production rather than at shutter release.  It also allows for interactive viewings where focus can move around in the image as per the viewer’s desire. It has come a long way since the gadget like camera (their own words) now with a 4 MP sensor camera good enough for 20×30 cm prints. The software can also produce movie clips with a changing focus suitable for web use. The sleekly designed camera with touch screen controls has a f2 lens and 3200 ISO sensitivity.  The MSRP of 1600 Euros/USD might sound scary but it certainly worth keeping an eye on for the future and has already won several awards for innovation.

Carried away

“It is 40 % cheaper but only 10% less quality” the Dutch RedGed sales rep said about their carbon fibre tripods as I asked how they stack up against a Gitzo. They indeed look and feel solid with extra features such as a detachable leg that turns into a monopod. With small foldable feet like Manfrottos video supports it might be the perfect tripod.

Talk about Manfrotto, they showed new bags featuring a “Exo tough construction” in essence a partial semi hard shell for better protection. Black with configurable bright red interior it also looks stylish and very functional.

The move

The conversion of photography and video and maybe even more so the photographer and the videographer was obvious with the presence of Red showing off beautiful 18 MP stills from the Scarlet Dragon Cinema camera and the Black Magic range of cameras with the new URSA as flagship. Additionally a whole hall was also dedicated to video and support equipment. There were jibs, tripods, sliders and many automated systems as well as the Italian company Nilox showing off the F60 EVO accompanied by blaring music. The action cam has a has a Sony sensor and looks like a GoPro Hero knock off not yet with 4k video but a wider field of view. It might one day give GoPro a run for their money in the growing action cam market. Talk about GoPro they had set up camp next to Kolor the French software company that specializes in 360 virtual tour software and now also 360 video stitching. They showed off a few different rigs for 360 video incorporating GoPro cameras. On the other side of GoPro was Google Maps showing off the new Views which is meant to replace Panoramio in the future of Maps.

Print on

Even though the market has moved from print to screen there is still plenty of room for prints particularly as wall art. Whitewall displayed a new polished aluminium surface and the print of the bright red Roosevelt Island tramway against New York’s Queens Borough showed incredible detail and eye-popping colours. I may have taken extra affinity to that print as it is my favourite bridge in the world but it was super lustrous and outright gorgeous.

Take Charge

With bigger sensors and more powerful screens the power consumption goes up. Dupio charged my drained battery back to life with the Brand Charger with adjustable charge pins. They also offer a Compact Universal Charger that “charges almost any battery for digital cameras and mobile phones”.  If so it would save me lots of space in my kit as I often travel with 4 or more chargers.

Inspiration

Good equipment does not make good pictures, good photographers does in the words of veteran Thomas Hoepker . The two together can make fantastic pictures though and this was evident at the Leica gallery which had the theme of music headlined by Jim Marshalls pictures of the Beatles and The Stones. There were also exhibits by Anton Corbijn, Bono’s friend and film director showing a great series of wannabes made up in his small Dutch home town. Mary McCartney the oldest daughter of Paul and Linda shared intimate rock start moments whilst the Canadian rocker Bryan Adams showed another creative side with large portraits of disabled vets.  Of course the pure photo journalism also had its place with pictures from the book “the Germans” by Rene Burri first published in 1962. On display was also a Thomas Hoepker retrospective as well as the Gerd Ludwig’s Tjernobyl reportage for National Geographic and Anja Niedringhauses images from Afghanistan shot prior to hear death last spring. And this was just some of the exhibits shown under a big sign saying “LEICA – DAS WESENTLICHE” (LEICA – THE NECESSARY).

Inspired, exhausted but happy I left the halls in Deutz and walked across the Rhein on the Hohenzollernbrucke to admire the love that has been padlocked to the fence. I shot a few frames knowing that I still love photography.

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